Now that you’ve put in all that blood, sweat and tears and have several audience-ready, perhaps even award-worthy scripts under your belt, you’ve taken the first step necessary to becoming a professional screenwriter. But what comes next? How do you actually “break in” to the business and sell your screenplay?
Taking a page from the online social playbook, you need to start making new friends. For novice screenwriters, finding insiders willing to spread the word about your talent is critical to success. But how do you achieve this, short of stalking the likes of Ari Emanuel and Scott Rudin on Facebook?
Once you’ve honed your writing skills, you need to hone your networking skills. While nearly all film and television companies have a strict policy against reading unsolicited material, this should not deter you from trying to get your script on their radar screens through other means. Don’t hesitate to utilize any and all Hollywood-related contacts you may already have, no matter how remote: an old college pal who is now an entertainment attorney, a distant cousin working in an agency mailroom, or a buddy whose SoCal bar is frequented by actor types.
Websites like InkTip, TVWritersVault and VirtualPitchfest also provide useful methods to widen your readership. And highly respected screenplay competitions like the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, which are judged by professional readers and industry execs, are a good bet as well.
As you embark on this journey, you’ll encounter individuals from all corners of the business: managers, agents, lawyers and producers. It’s important to know the different roles and services each provides.
Managers usually take the long view on a writer’s career potential and will dedicate the most time to growing you as a professional, giving you notes on your scripts and even sourcing ideas for new material.
Agents tend to be dealmakers, with a larger network of contacts and job leads to get their clients onto paid assignments. However, most won’t take the time to help you develop your script and career the same way a manager will.
Hiring an Entertainment Attorney can be a wise move for new writers, particularly since they are better equipped than managers or agents to aid in the intricacies of contract negotiations. Plus, L.A.-based lawyers are well connected and can introduce you to other players in the business.
Working with Producers can be extremely helpful, especially if they are well established and boast a strong network of contacts. And of course, once a producer options your script or hands you a writing assignment, it makes it that much easier to land representation because you will be seen as a more valuable potential client.
That said, it is easier to sell a script when you have a good representative in your corner. If you have a personal contact and can get a foot in the door at a top agency (CAA, ICM, UTA, WME, Gersh) or management firm (Anonymous Content, Benderspink, Industry Entertainment, Management 360), these are the companies that carry the most clout in the industry. However, the reality is that these major players are rarely interested in repping unproduced screenwriters unless the writer already has a hot project or deal in the works.
In most cases, you’ll have a better shot querying a boutique company that sees new talent as an opportunity. Use references like the Hollywood Creative Directory (HCD) to put together your target list. The HCD’s Online Directory Database, available via a month-to-month or annual subscription, offers comprehensive information including credits, studio relationships and submission policies. Other websites where you can find detailed listings for representatives are SellAScript, which offers a “Writer’s Rolodex,” and Screenplay2Sell, which updates its online directory more frequently than the HCD. Both services are competitively priced.
Try to get as many different companies to read your work as possible. Nothing excites an industry exec more than competition, so the more companies you have vying to sign you, the better! And don’t forget, Hollywood is all about “the pitch.” It is vital that you become an expert at pitching yourself and your work. Develop strong loglines for your current and future projects so that you can confidently pitch them to the people you meet.
Once you arrive at that fortunate place where one or more companies are interested in representing you, you still need to determine if the relationship is the right one for you. Sit down with the agent or manager, ask them what they envision as your career path and how you’ll work together to create opportunities. In turn, you should have a strong sense of what kind of films you want to make. It’s of critical importance that your rep “gets” you as a writer and understands your individual talents and strengths.
Ultimately, when deciding whether or not to formalize a relationship with anyone in the business, you need to follow your gut. Signing a long-term representation agreement with someone who is going to ignore you, clash with you creatively or otherwise “not work out” can be disastrous to a fledgling writer.
No matter who you sign with, it’s vital to find your niche. Production companies and studios base their writer searches on genre; thus, you are an easier sell if you specialize as an action, comedy, horror or thriller writer. When you turn into the next Leslie Dixon or Aaron Sorkin you can write whatever you want, but until then you’ll have a better chance of breaking in if you are known for writing a specific type of easily classified, commercial material.
It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: relationships are everything in show business. While this may sound like strange advice for a writer, because ideally the quality of the work is all that should matter, it’s critical to become the best “people person” you can be. The best way for a writer to get jobs is to work well with others and maintain a good reputation. That not only means being open to new ideas, taking notes well, and turning work around quickly, but also committing to open and honest communication with others.
Once you have proven your writing talent and mastered your Hollywood networking abilities, you’ll have more friends than you know what to do with. Just like on Facebook.
Alison Haskovec is an independent producer and consultant for Scott Free Television. A Harvard grad, Alison previously worked in feature development at Radar Pictures and Intermedia Films, where she received a co-producer credit on the Japanese horror remake One Missed Call, released by Warner Bros. Other major motion pictures she has worked on include The Hunting Party, Breach, The Chronicles of Riddick and The Last Samurai.